Metrolinx “Big 5” Update (November 2009)

Today’s Metrolinx Board Meeting was notable both for the update, in public session, of the project status for five major lines as well as for supplementary information that came out in a press scrum after the public session.

Five projects now have funding and are at various stages in their approval/construction process.

Viva Next Phase 1

  • Construction start 2009, in service 2013
  • Projected peak demand 3,100-5,800 per hour
  • Committed funding $1.4-billion
  • Route length 37km

Phase 1 comprises the link east on Highway 7 from Richmond Hill Centre to Markham Centre as well as a piece of the Viva network in Newmarket.  The future Phase 2 will include Highway 7 west from Richmond Hill to Pine Valley, and Yonge from Richmond Hil north to 19th.

Sheppard East LRT

  • Construction start 2009, in service 2013-14
  • Projected peak demand 3,100 per hour
  • Committed funding $1.0-billion
  • Route length 15km

Preliminary work has already started on watermain upgrades and relocation in advance of LRT construction above, as well as for the bypass road at Agincourt GO Station where a road/rail grade separation will be built.

This line is planned to run from Don Mills to Meadowvale.  See discussion below re UofT Scarborough Campus (UTSC) and the Pan Am Games.

Finch LRT

  • Construction start 2011, in service 2016
  • Projected peak demand 4,500 per hour
  • Committed funding $1.2-billion
  • Route length 24km
  • This line is planned to from Humber College east via Finch to Yonge, an ultimately to Don Mills Station at Sheppard.  The term “ultimately” used in the presentation suggests that for budgetary reasons the eastern leg of the line may not be part of the first phase of this project.

    Scarborough RT/LRT

  • Construction start 2011, in service 2015
  • Projected peak demand 6,400-10,000 per hour
  • Committed funding $1.4-billion
  • Route length 10km
  • This project includes the replacement of the existing Scarborough RT and its extension north to Sheppard, eventually to Malvern.  The presentation confirmed that the section north of Sheppard would not be built in the first phase of the project.

    During the press scrum after the public meeting, John Howe, Metrolinx’ General Manager of Investment Strategy and Projects, was asked about the technology choice for the SRT.  He stated that Metrolinx and the TTC are agreed that the SRT line should be converted to LRT technology, that the cost of the LRT and RT options were approximately equal, and that the ability to integrate the SRT into the new LRT network was beneficial.

    He also noted that the SRT is an important part of the Pan Am Games preparations (see below).

    We have now had public statements by senior management at both the TTC and Metrolinx that the SRT will be converted to an LRT line.  The TTC needs to get on with a round of public consultation that actually reflects the LRT option rather than saying “we really want LRT, but we’re showing you RT for political reasons”.

    This also puts to rest concerns that a shadow-proposal for “extension” of the SRT westward via Eglinton is now off of the table.  One of the badly kept secrets at Metrolinx was the lobbying effort by Bombardier for a turnkey contract to implement their proprietary technology on an extended SRT plus Eglinton.  This would not only have cut the heart out of Transit City itself, but would raise difficult questions about transparency and public sector procurement rules.

    One major concern for Metrolinx is that the SRT conversion to LRT be completed on time.  A possible option, according to Howe, is that the SRT would remain in operation as RT until after the games.  This is a dangerous option because the line will have to run with aging equipment and infrastructure for over 5 more years.  The real issue is that a formal decision on LRT conversion and a well-designed project plan are required to ensure the S(L)RT is open well before it is needed for the Games.

    There are really two separate projects involved.  Building an LRT line south from Sheppard to the east end of McCowan Yard, and converting the existing line to LRT.  Because of the foot-dragging by all concerned on the technology issue, and the TTC’s preference to paint the conversion in the worst possible light for construction timing, we face both the discomfort of politicians who must embrace this change and of a public who have been repeatedly told it is fraught with problems.  This is not good transit advocacy.

    The Kennedy Station design work is only now beginning, and early work based on an RT-based SRT must be revised to include possible through operation of Eglinton and SRT trains.  We have wasted a lot of time even though we are finally, as I have long argued, at the right conclusion.

    Eglinton LRT

  • Construction start 2011, in service 2016-20
  • Projected peak demand 7,800 per hour
  • Committed funding $4.6-billion
  • Route length 31km
  • The Eglinton line, despite being listed as “LRT”, still has a dual personality in Metrolinx.  Some parts of today’s presentations refer to it as the “Eglinton Crosstown RT”, the generic term used when Metrolinx was still pushing for this to be an RT line rather than LRT.

    The line will run from Kennedy Station to the Airport and, according to the recently released Transit Project Assessment, will open in stages.  First, in 2016, will be Eglinton West Station to a transit terminal at Commerce Blvd. in Mississauga where it will meet GO and Mississauga Transit Services.  Next, in 2018, will be the section east from Eglinton West to Kennedy Station.  Finally, in 2020, the segment north to the Airport.

    An outstanding issue for design is a Metrolinx proposal to grade-separate some intersections to reduce travel times.  The specifics of this proposal were not included in the presentation.  Indeed, the TTC’s Transit Project Assessment refers to possible omission of some stops on the west end of the line to speed running times to the Airport.

    With luck, we may see more details in the public consultation sessions next week.

    The Pan-Am Games

    Metrolinx regards the Viva Highway 7, SRT and Sheppard East projects as crucial for service to the Pan-Am Games.  During the presentation, John Howe suggested that service to the aquatic centre at UTSC could be provided by shuttle bus service running from somewhere (unspecified) on the rapid transit network.

    An alternative, which I put forward during the press scrum, would be to build only the northern part of the proposed Scarborough-Malvern LRT, roughly 2.3km of line south via Morningside to UTSC.  This would provide a direct link to Don Mills Station via the Sheppard LRT, would give that line an eastern anchor and generator of counter-peak traffic, and would permit (with a suitable junction at the SRT/Sheppard LRT crossing) direct service during the games period from Kennedy Station to UTSC via Sheppard.  John Howe confirmed that this is an option Metrolinx is considering.

    Metrolinx expects to have a better handle on its involvement in and the requirements for the Games in a few weeks, but will not formally report this to the Board until its February 2010 meeting.

    Transit City Vehicles

    The TTC, Metrolinx and Queen’s Park are in the final stages of a procurement arrangement for the Transit City vehicles which, for the lines announced so far, will be a fleet of 265 cars or more.   A provincial decision approving the purchase scheme is imminent, and is in any event required by the end of 2009 so that the first cars will be in place for the Sheppard East opening.

    Alternative Financing Procurement

    This is a wonderfully vague term used by Infrastructure Ontario to describe a hybrid private/public sector procurement scheme.  The supposed advantage is that the private partner has an incentive to deliver a project on time and on budget within a fixed price.  Metrolinx cites Vancouver’s Canada Line project as an example of a “successful” project, although issues have come to light regarding neighbourhood disruption and low-wage off-shore labour.  More to the point, any private contractor will build in a reserve to their price to protect against penalties, and indeed in a worst case scenario, it may be preferable to accept the penalty rather than meet the contract.

    Current plans call for the Finch and Scarborough RT projects to be undertaken by AFP while the Viva Phase 1 and Sheppard East projects would be done by York Region and TTC respectively as these are already underway.  The approach to be used for Eglinton is at this point uncertain, but a decision will be made early in 2010.


    The funding amounts shown above are the provincial (and in the case of Sheppard partly Federal) announced levels of support for these projects.  Any attempt to calculate a cost/km should be done with care as the actual length of route to be built for the money available remains to be seen.  Given the current financial situation at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa, additional funding for these projects is highly unlikely.  This also raises the question of the pressure to constrain funding on any other projects that may come to light and the need for new or redirected sources of revenue.

    This brings in partly the rationale for AFP in that if a third party builds a route and then leases it to Metrolinx, the debt is in the form of a long term lease rather than immediate spending by Queen’s Park.  Although this might be used to shift some of the project costs off of provincial books in the short term, public sector accounting standards now treat long-term leases similarly to debt in that both involve future unavoidable expense.

    Metrolinx will recognize expenditures from local governments and agencies back to 2007 as part of project funding. This will allow York Region and Toronto to recoup their investment in planning and design work for Viva Next and Transit City.  

    John Howe made the strong point that without the up-front work by Toronto on Transit City, Metrolinx would not have a “Big 5” today because no projects in the regional plan would have advanced enough to be in or close to construction.

    Indeed, any city is free to engage in proposals and design with the recognition that the cost will only be recouped from Metrolinx if and when the project is funded.  The idea is to leave the door open for proposals, but with an incentive to be reasonable.  This sounds good, but it begs the question of how any local initiatives would fit with Metrolinx’ unwillingnes to entertain changes in their Regional Plan.

    Slowly, the machinery of co-operative ventures between Queen’s Park and local operations, especially Toronto and the TTC, is working better.  May this continue.

    22 thoughts on “Metrolinx “Big 5” Update (November 2009)

    1. Viva is planning to carry 5,800ppdph by bus?! Good luck, they’ll need it.

      Steve: I think that’s a future year number, but as with all Metrolinx demand projections, it is suspect because they don’t tell us how they get it.


    2. Are those peak demands for each lines opening year?

      Steve: No. When Metrolinx published demand stats for its network, they were for 2031. I am not sure which year these updated stats are for, but the intent is to show the target ridership that the line is expected to be able to handle.


    3. When did Eglinton & Finch start dates get pushed back? Why not start construction in 2010?

      Steve: Eglinton is pushed back I think because of Metrolinx screwing around about how it will be built. Finch isn’t even out of the EA process yet.


    4. So, where are all these people suddenly coming out of the woodwork to ride a VIVA bus? Is Metrolinx behind Markham Centre too, or do they know something we don’t?


    5. Hopefully Metrolinx didn’t use a linear relationship to project demand.

      For the Eglinton LRT, the province did provide a lot of funding. Grade separation could simply mean building LRT tracks on an overpass at intersections. They don’t have to switch to some sort of RT type trains.

      Either way, the city could replace/relocate utilities in 2010?

      Steve: Yes, I don’t see why they have to wait to 2011 to begin construction given the length of the line and the likely amount of utility work that will precede construction. It’s almost as if Metrolinx is delaying things in hopes of finding a private sector partner who wants to take on a project this big.


    6. Was there any mention on the timing for Viva Phase 2? Will it also be in service in time for the games in 2015?

      Steve: The presentation says that the Highway 7 component of Viva needs to be ready for the Games, and that’s in Phase 2.


    7. Why isn’t the Scarborough Malvern LRT being funded, now that Toronto won the bid to host the Pan Am Games, is it wise to only build 1/4 of it via a branch off of the Sheppard LRT?

      Steve: It is not clear that the SMLRT is necessarily the primary way to get people to UTSC both for the Games and for the longer term thinking of students. Many people are originating north and west of UTSC, and for them a link south to Kennedy is of little value. An anlogy I might make would be for York U students who don’t live along the NS corridor of the subway extension or its feeder routes.

      Why is the TTC re-studying the SRT line, Based on what they said back in June the type of route was already finalized. From what I heard from one representative the only decision left was to technology choice. My only logical explanation for this is that they may be planning on re visiting the grade separated station which connects the Sheppard LRT with the Scarborough (L)RT.

      Steve: They had been toying with an LRT conversion all year, but the designs they presented were clearly oriented to RT notably with the absence of a connection at Sheppard, the need for a dedicated carhouse at Bellamy and the Malvern Station configuration as an elevated rather than at grade. A lot will have to be redone.

      I actually have to agree with Metrolinx regarding the Eglinton line to some degree. Making it a metro/ICTS is over kill, but at the same time after looking at the report the TTC completed last week, a lot work still needs fixing.

      A) Don Mills Station still doesn’t make sense from what I’ve seen. What’s the point of putting one line underground and the other one at surface? Better yet, and with no direct connection.

      B) Not quite sure why Black Creek was left at surface level, I wonder how the TTC is going to fit an LRT at surface level with a narrow space between Jane and Black Creek. My only solution to this is that they will expropriate some private properties, which won’t sit well with some home owners.

      c) Like I said in the previous post, the whole left turn traffic signal doesn’t make any sense to me. If the TTC implements this strategy it just makes the line slower because it would create more “stopping time” and what we end up with is Spadina street car line. I actually liked there original strategy better than this one. I guess you can say it’s the better of two evils.

      D) There should be two branches to terminate the line in the west end. Thats how the TTC marketed the line from day one, and there for that’s how it should be built. If I’m going to the Airport why must I be forced to ver south and then north to the airport, when there is a more direct option after Martin Grove to go directly to the airport, I think its option 4( not sure) in the TTC original plan. If people want to go to Mississauga then they can take a second branch that goes south and connects with the BRT line.

      E) There no reason why the LRT line can’t operate on the south side of Eglinton between Don Mills and Laird. If the issue is due to funding I’m sure the additional cost would be marginal, all your doing is creating a little more space on the south side so that the line can avoid the traffic signals at Leslie and Eglinton. By doing this you are also automatically extending the portion of the Eglinton line that has exclusive ROW, and for little to no cost, added.

      I may not be a transit planner but from what I’ve read and (please correct me if I’m wrong) but the Eglinton LRT still needs a lot of work done, especially if they want to showcase that and LRT is just as good as a subway


    8. Hi Steve, the only paper carrying the Big 5 story was the commuter Metro. I could not find anything useful on the Metrolinx website beyond the media advisory yesterday. Menezes has not returned my voicemail asking for the report (if there was one) City/Metrolinx co-operation is not quite there yet.


    9. The reality is that if TTC/Metrolinx had committed to LRT instead of messing about with the mode for the SRT replacement, SRT and the Sheppard Yard could have been TC Line 1 and built 2009-2013 not 2011-2015.

      Sheppard West would then be incepted as a continuation of the SRT line from 2013 onwards until enough of it was built to split them, by which time maybe – just maybe – TTC would have figured out the 404/Don Mills Station plan, and maybe – just maybe – they might be operating the TC lines in a manner persuasive to the City to rebuild the Sheppard subway to LRT.

      If ART is being abandoned, what’s the plan for McCowan Yard? Is it likely to become a storage yard for LRVs or is there potential to redevelop the site?


    10. Has Construction started on Viva Phase 1 & Sheppard East LRT yet?

      When is the construction starting on York University Extension?

      Steve: Utilities work is underway for all projects. A formal groundbreaking for Sheppard and Spadina is expected later this fall.


    11. For comparison sake, you should add in a bullet point for projected cost.

      Steve: The problem is that at this point it is unclear what the allocated funding will actually cover and what parts will be in a future phase. There are projected costs for the TC projects, but these numbers don’t necessarily cover the same things as the Metrolinx numbers.


    12. I was wondering why the cost/km of LRT varies so much. Finch LRT:$50 million/km. Sheppard LRT:$67 million/km (Is the extra cost for the underground Don Mills station?) Scarborough S/LRT:$140 million/km! (It’s a surface line, isn’t it?) Eglinton LRT:$148/km (Lots of tunnel).

      Steve: Yes, part of Sheppard is underground. For the SRT it’s unclear exactly what the money covers. Part of the line is new, part is a conversion, part is major reconstruction at Kennedy.


    13. Was the possibility of grade separating along Richview or the south side of Eglinton east of Brentcliffe ever examined at all before the current design was put on the table? I haven’t followed the whole thing so I may very well have missed something but it seems like TTC staff is being stubborn like they were with the SRT. Thou shalt not run LRT anywhere but the centre of the road.

      The Don Mills design is just bizarre. Why keep it on the surface? If there’s any sort of volume of transfer traffic here it’s going to be trouble. What if a DRL runs up here?

      Steve: The TTC keeps citing problems with access to adjacent properties as their reason for disliking side-of-road designs, even in locations where such accesses are rare.


    14. kevin said:
      “E) There no reason why the LRT line can’t operate on the south side of Eglinton between Don Mills and Laird.”

      You’re forgetting about the Celestica access.

      Steve: It’s a road. Add a traffic light. I think I can count the number of cars I have seen actually using this ramp on my fingers.


    15. That Celestica access (or at least the eastbound Eglinton portion) I believe could easily be decomissioned. It’s not the only access either (there’s another closer to Don Mills), and the non-grade-separated access could easily be converted to a signalized intersection at a point where the Eglinton LRT would already be underground (or almost underground… around the portal whichever way you look at it).


    16. Nick L wrote about Eglinton south-side LRT west of Don Mills, “You’re forgetting about the Celestica access.”

      It’s an underpass access road – just have the LRT swerve about 100 metres to its south edge and the problem is solved. This is a far cry from a parking lot exit onto a main road, which is the reason for making side of the road ROWs impractical on for most of the Transit City routes.


    17. I have little doubt that the delay in beginning the Eglinton LRT project is a result of some very questionable behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by Metrolinx regarding the technology and funding choices. It would be nice to see at least one mainstream Toronto journalist really dig into that matter, particularly where it concerns the relationship between certain key players at Metrolinx and the private firms with whom they do business.

      While we’re on that subject, has anyone taken a close look at the controversy surrounding the construction of the Johannesburg-Pretoria Gautrain commuter rail project? It’s being done under a P3 design-build-operate-maintain contract. You’d be surprised to find who the players are, especially given that this is exactly the kind of deal that Metrolinx is advocating for the construction of many of the cocktail napkin schemes contained in their lamentable Regional Transportation Plan.


    18. Has construction started on the VIVA Next Busway yet?

      Steve: According to the Metrolinx website, this is already in progress. I will leave it to readers living in York Region to comment on what has actually happened to date.


    19. I keep hearing about a ‘Fall 2009’ groundbreaking ceremony for the Sheppard East LRT. The end of Fall is 14 days away so will this groundbreaking ceremony even happen this year?

      Steve: Work has already started (in October). The problem with official groundbreakings is getting all of the politicians together. Sheppard has Federal money in it, and so the co-ordination is more complex.


    20. Is it just me or do find that most of the oppostion to the Sheppard East LRT are from people who do not even use the Sheppard East corridor on a frequent basis?

      Steve: Interestingly, what seemed to be strong opposition from the BIA near Agincourt Station has turned out to be a concern that the construction not put them out of business. They support the project, but want better co-ordination and planning than on St. Clair.


    21. Merry Christmas and thank you for the response. I live off Sheppard East in Scarborough and I will definitely benefit from the Sheppard East LRT. However, I find it so frustrating that there are several members on Urban Toronto who do not use the Sheppard East transit corridor on a frequent basis and are arguing that a Sheppard Subway extension is the best option. There is even a group working on a report and want to present it to the TTC and Metrolinx trying to kill several LRT lines in favour of subways. Why are people bashing the Sheppard East LRT so much?

      Steve: I will not speak for the folks on Urban Toronto. What I do know is that we cannot possibly afford to build subways in many of the corridors some are advocating, and indeed will have trouble paying for those already on the table such as Richmond Hill and the DRL.

      Toronto has a long, sad history of thinking only subways are good enough, and building little as a result. We could get into a huge debate about the merits of LRT, and it’s easy to find examples of small projects in the US that are more the product of pork barrel politics than good planning (you only have to go to Buffalo for an example). This does not invalidate LRT as a mode any more that the Sheppard Subway “proves” that subways are overbuilt momuments to political egos. Each has its place, but the bigger the pricetag, the more people stand to benefit from the project.


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